Noise: UNITE HERE labor union staged a small protest against the ordinance as originally proposed. Clara Harter

After a debate around First Amendment rights vs the rights of residents to peace and quiet, Council came to a compromise regarding the tightening of the City’s noise ordinance.

The updated ordinance restricts the time and length of targeted residential protests while protecting the rights of workers to protest in public spaces starting at 7 a.m.

Moving forward, protests targeted at specific residences are allowed between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the weekdays and 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on the weekends.

If protestors wish to continue protesting they must move away from the targeted residence and can continue their use of amplified noise from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. This is allowed to happen for two hours for two consecutive days and is limited to 45 minutes on the third day, unless protestors move to a new location. All protests in residential areas are subject to these time and length limits after 8 p.m.

Protests that do not target a specific residence and occur on public property are allowed to use amplified sound from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and weekends. The updated ordinance as originally proposed placed an 8 a.m. start time on weekends, but Mayor Sue Himmelrich strongly advocated for the change to 7 a.m.

“As we know and we’ve heard from UNITE HERE and others is that 7 a.m. is an important time for them to be able to protest, because working people may begin their shifts at 8 a.m. and they want to exercise their First Amendment rights prior to joining those shifts,” said Himmelrich.

UNITE HERE, is a labor union representing hospitality workers. They demonstrated their objection to the 8 a.m. restriction through public comment and by staging a small 7 a.m. protest at the Shore Hotel on July 27.

While Himmelrich was most concerned about First Amendment rights, Councilmember Phil Brock was on the opposite end of the debate, and most concerned about residents’ rights.

“How do we find the time to let residents in those apartments, who have worked all week, have at least peace and quiet till 8am?” said Brock. “Most people in Santa Monica don’t have air conditioning and they don’t have double glazed glass, so that means those demonstrations would really affect those people.”

Under the understanding that protests targeting specific residences with amplified sound would still be limited to 8 a.m. weekend starts, Council agreed to adapt Himmelrich’s proposed amendment and the updated ordinance passed unanimously.

This discussion came on the heels of a year of significant protesting activity in Santa Monica, including Black Lives Matter movement in summer 2020 and protests at Sheila Kuehl’s house in fall 2020.

According to the staff report, the latter movement “went on for several weeks, involved nightly, hours-long uses of amplified sound in a residential neighborhood that generated multiple complaints from residents.”

These complaints spurred Council to request that staff review changes to the noise ordinance on Dec. 15, 2020.

The new ordinance preserves protestors rights to target specific residences with amplified noise, but provides respite for affected residents during evening and early morning hours. The ordinance also retains a 50 foot distance restriction between protesters and targeted residences.

Clara@smdp.com